At this year’s F8, Zuckerberg offered a vision of the future with Facebook at the center of a project to “bring people closer together,” to remove barriers, and to overcome the polarization that so blights our society. Step one? Get rid of the smartphone.
Facebook is a digital real estate business. Well-known renters include Apple and The New York Times. What Facebook rents are its users and their attention, a valuable form of currency in today’s digital market. Renters access these users via many portals. The predominant one is the smartphone.
Zuckerberg plans to displace the smartphone with Augmented Reality (AR) glasses. Facebook pictures a world where everyone is wearing glasses, using them to shop, decorate, explore, and communicate. Moreover, they plan to lead the charge.
Why AR glasses? Snapchat, that’s why.
Snapchat has been a thorn in Zuckerberg’s side ever since Evan Spiegel had the audacity to turn down a $3 billion offer for his business. Unabashedly, Facebook has continuously copied Snapchat’s features in an unequivocal attempt to shut it down.
The glasses themselves are about 5-10 years out. In the meantime, Zuckerberg plans to explore AR through smartphone cameras. Filters and other digital decorations will overlay the real world mediated by a user’s smartphone. Sound familiar?
Behind the florid language of unity and global communitarianism, many believe Zuckerberg is channeling his inner Bond villain, hell-bent on crushing Snap, once and for all. (Anyone who remembers the browser wars of the late nineties will know how this story ends.)
Sure, a Facebook AR operating system that usurps Apple’s iOS dominance and forces the world’s biggest businesses to become tenants on a pay-to-play basis sounds exciting for Facebook, but it’s unclear what the user benefits are.
Second, AR/VR competitors won’t sit idly by while Facebook attempts to control the market. In fact, they’re already prowling the market. Magic Leap still has time to deliver on it’s promises. Microsoft’s HoloLens too may as of yet have unlocked potential. As for Apple, it’s still too early to count them out.
Undoubtedly, whoever creates the first mainstream augmented-reality platform for mass audiences will likely have the ability to rule the next generation of technology.
Whether it will be Facebook, Microsoft, Snapchat or Google remains to be seen.